UN rights forum picks ex-ICC prosecutor to lead Ethiopia abuses investigation

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ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The U.N. Human Rights Council has picked the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to lead a panel investigating violations of human rights in the conflict in northern Ethiopia, the council said on Wednesday.

Ethiopian federal troops went to war with rebellious Tigrayan forces in November 2020. Since the war erupted, Reuters has reported atrocities by all sides, which the parties to the fighting have denied.

The council voted in December to establish an independent investigative commission, to look into alleged violations by all sides and to identify perpetrators with a view to accountability.

Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian national who was chief prosecutor at the ICC between 2012 and 2021, will lead the panel of three, the council said in a statement.

The panel will "establish the facts and circumstances surrounding the alleged violations and abuses, collect and preserve evidence, to identify those responsible, where possible," the council said.

It will also "make such information accessible and usable in support of ongoing and future accountability efforts."

The team will brief the council during its mid-year session and present a written report towards the end of the year.

Gedion Timothewos, the Ethiopia's minister of justice, said they will cooperate with any investigation "focused on the genuine promotion and protection of human rights."

"There is light at the end of the tunnel and the Ethiopian people in their collective wisdom will opt for peace and reconciliation," he told the council in Geneva.

Thousands of civilians have died and millions have fled in the conflict between the federal government and rebellious forces including fighters loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated Ethiopia's ruling coalition for nearly 30 years.

The TPLF welcomed the council's move to investigate atrocities in December, when the body passed a resolution to create it.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Duncan Miriri, Editing by William Maclean)